Thursday, April 4, 2013

Images of St. Augustine

Sun-struck faces three/
blinking like the flash of wings/
Eden's cool green days

A girl, a child, thin, sylphlike, leans toward her father but is distracted. Head turned, she looks toward something facing her. We have her forever, captured by chance and surprise in a tourist photo of -- I consult the map -- King Street. She is time's accidental hostage in our first moments in a new destination, valuable only because they are ours.
Northeast Florida is cold because a storm has steamrolled through the day before taking everything in the air had with it; cold dry air follows from somewhere behind it. Clouds, for three days, cool at night, in the morning, in the evening, warming in midday. Warming a little more each day until my in-between wardrobe that was too cold on the first day is too hot on the last. Where are the clothes of summer? Yes, where are they? Upstairs in a plastic bin awaiting eighty-degree days in Massachusetts.
Somehow we don't meet many people in Florida (probably because there are four of us already), but birds are our friends, particularly the large ones. They feel secure, sheltered in large preserves where no one tries to harm them.
We find them everywhere, pelicans zigzagging across the harbor, sometimes flocking, often flying solo.
Black-headed seagulls, somehow less brutish than our own variety, gather on a gently slanted rooftop of ye olde somewhat dilapidated dock-sited drinking hole; their figures bright white against the faded dark red of a long shed-like facade with beckoning porches. The seagulls wait, hoping some lady will spread crumbs on a flat porch railing. Some lady does.
In the amazing state park on Anastasia Island -- barrier beach, dunes, subtropical nature walk, bird-sign viewing spot -- we have already met the osprey before our enduring close encounter. It sits contentedly in a tree in hummock of brush between dunes and parking area so thick the winged being knows no great land-locked blunderer can get any closer. We stare, but don't get close enough to ID him. We don't know who he is.
However, an hour later, by the "sign of the birds," he poses for inspection. We have pulled off the road at the place where a billboard filled with lifesize images of charismatically large avians has drawn us to the waterside turn-off from the park's main road where you are supposed to do what? Look at pictures of birds? I turn from staring at the billboard and there he is. Once more on a tree limb, but now exposed, isolated, close to people in the small parking area on the other side of a shade cover. We walk slowly toward him, expecting at any moment to see him haul sail on those masty wings and fly. He doesn't move or appear to notice us in any way. He does not deign to see us.
I sneak up cleverly by walking beneath the shade roof and pop out undetected, but it doesn't matter. He ignores us,enjoying his afternoon gaze. We stand beneath his tree, aiming our cameras upward.
We show him off to newcomers to the parking lot, like a celebrity guest. He's still there an hour later when we leave.
In that hour we see other birds, great white and smaller egrets, all of them white, standing along the water's edge. They have their rules about how close we can get, but it's closer than most allow. Sandpipers dance along the gray wet sand of the water's edge. Terns fly overhead with their small black heads and precisely arrowed wings, crimped just aerodynamically so. A great blue heron glides over the blue water and goes away to somewhere barely visible on the other side. Pelicans quarter the sand strip-land and blue water of the inlet; their casual swoop downward measuring the chances of a quick pop-down for lunch, then reverse course up and away again.
I see huge white wings flapping at great distance, out of sight in an instance. Maybe a great egret in flight? Maybe something else.
Maybe I am dreaming this all up, having fallen asleep under the great Billboard of the Illustrated Birds. Maybe the Northeast coast of Florida in the last week of March is a dream as well, now that we're all back where we belong and it's thirty-three degrees in Boston but "feels like twenty-two" according to the Weather Channel because a ceaseless and vengefully chilly wind blows: are you mad at me, O my Miserable Massachusetts March, because I abandoned you for a week?
But no, it's not a dream. We have the photos.